Monday, August 1, 2011

Pickled Beets

I have a confession.  I have always thought beets taste like blood and dirt.  I don't know why, since I don't make it a habit to consume either of these things.  But, that's the best description my eight year old mind could come up with and I stuck to it.

For a few years, we belonged to a CSA.  CSAs (or Community Supported Agriculture) are generally farms that you buy into.  We paid for several months of vegetables (and occasionally flowers and herbs).  The only catch was, we had to go pick it up.  Sometimes there were more tomatoes than we could eat (and we'd roast them), other times it was strange vegetables we'd never seen before (kohlrabi, anyone?).

Our first summer there, my children discovered that they loved sugar snap peas.  They devoured quarts of them on the drive home and happily plucked yellow pear tomatoes off the vine.  My oldest decided her favorite vegetable was flat leaf kale (more tender than its curly cousin) and I discovered that I tolerate okay, LOVE beets.  But they have to be my beets.  I still think canned beets are vile.

Saturday, a friend brought me to her favorite farm stand where they had beets for $1.50 a bunch.  She looked surprised to see me selecting all four bunches to take home.  "I thought you hated beets?"  So did I.  Until I learned to cook them.

First step?  Roast them.  Like every other vegetable, roasting is nearly the best way to get the best flavor. It concentrates, caramelizes, and deepens flavors.  It also makes things sweet (have you ever had a roasted carrot?  Try that sometime!)

I trimmed the greens off and discarded them.  Yes, you can eat them.  I'm not a fan of beet greens.  And I had let these sit on the counter for too long, so they were wilted.  Into the trash they went.  I left about an inch of stem on them.  I also trimmed off the long root tails.  My 11 year old daughter scrubbed with our veg hog.  Yep.  That's a real thing.  And he's cute.

Get all the dirt and mud off.  These grow in the ground, so yeah, they're dirty.

You can use a baking sheet, but mine was dirty.  So, I foil-lined my 9x13 pan.  You'll need to fully encapsulate these in foil, so make sure you leave enough around the edges to make a pocket.

Lay the clean beets in the middle.  Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt, and crack some pepper.  Because I knew I was going to use tarragon vinegar, I added about a half teaspoon of dried french tarragon to them before sealing it up.  (Orange zest would have been amazing, but I didn't have any.)

Seal the sides and top and place in a 400° oven for about 45 minutes.  Check them with a paring knife to make sure they're soft.  Guess what?  Mine weren't.  So, they went back into the oven for about 20 more minutes.

Let them cool.  Trust me.   It's not worth it.  I roasted mine last night.

This morning, they were tender and soft and the skin peeled right off.  I just ran cool water over them and rubbed them between my fingers.  Easy, easy.  I was even talking on the phone while I did it!

Now, for the pickled part of pickled beets.  My harvest was about 16 beets.  You can absolutely halve that, if no one else in your family likes them.  (Or even quarter that)  But I'll tell you this - my kids ALL love them now, so be prepared to share.

Approximately 16 roasted beets
1 large red onion
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of tarragon vinegar
1 cup of red wine vinegar
3 tsp kosher salt

Slice the beets as thin or as thick as you like.  You could absolutely shred them (gently) and make a sort of beet slaw or dice them into matchsticks.  I like them very, very thinly sliced (almost shaved).  I also like my onion very thinly sliced.  A mandoline would be handy here.  

Layer the beets and onions in jars.  I alternated them, but really?  It doesn't matter.  You can just toss them into a jar.  Heck you can even use a re-purposed jar because we're not canning these.  They're just going into the fridge.  (I wouldn't use plastic, though.  The acidity in the vinegar is not going to be a good match for plastic.)

In a pot, combine your pickling ingredients:

2 cups of sugar
1 cup of tarragon vinegar
1 cup of red wine vinegar
3 tsp kosher salt

Bring to a simmer.  Your house will smell like pickles, but the kids asked, "What is that delicious smell?"

Once the sugar has melted into the vinegars, you can remove it from the stove.  Carefully pour it over the beets and onions.  Put a lid on it.  Refrigerate it.  Wait a few days.  Eat it.  

Seriously, you want a minimum of 3 days.  I'd say a week is even better.  

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